A couple of years ago the National Youth Orchestra of the USA launched with a concert at Carnegie Hall. It’s actually a program run by Carnegie Hall, which says a lot.
(FYI, the USA happens to be one of the LAST Western countries in the WORLD to form a National Youth Orchestra, which says a lot more.)
Anyway, in that first concert and subsequent tour they played Symphonic Dances from West Side Story by Leonard Bernstein.
They did a pretty darn good job!
But, not world-class.
And to read the gushing praise in the Youtube video comments was… is… nauseating.
You’d have thought this was the first time ANY youth orchestra had ever played at Carnegie Hall, or that piece of music. I really hope most of the people commenting with things like “this was the best concert I’ve ever been to in my entire life!” were the performer’s parents, because otherwise it doesn’t say much about the concerts those poor folk have been attending.
Eventually I had to add my own comment along the lines of: Good job, but not great. They could have done this, this and this better, like other orchestras their age do elsewhere.
Oh my, how on earth could anyone possibly chastise or criticize their little loved ones?!
I expected retaliation, but even got some support, too.
What I didn’t expect was to STILL get retaliation over a year later.
But last week’s comment irked me.
It suggested that…
Well, here it is. Along with my reply:
@Stephen P Brown I think that confidence is a very important part of a musician’s journey towards success, especially if they happen to be teenagers as seen in this video. I think that people that praise this particular group have a completely valid reason to do so. And I think that commenting and saying that they aren’t good by global standards is a bit of a low blow. These young musicians need praise so they don’t lose that drive…that passion that has sent them flying this far. Sure other youth ensembles may be better but that does not mean we have to immediately compare them to those other ensembles, instead we can let them enjoy their moment in the spotlight, and let their confidence soar. I get what you are trying to say, and it may be correct in some people point of view but I do not view it as a necessary comment to be posting here. They are excellent young performers. Emphasis on young, they have much to learn, but for their current age their ability to express passion and express the feeling that is embedded in the music they play, that ability is just fine. And your comment was completely, whilst being a valid opinion, a completely unnecessary one.
@bajimba I’m guessing you’re of the ilk that think every participant in every activity should get a medal, just for showing up and doing what is expected of them. “Everyone’s a winner” and all that, right? Pity. Those days are long gone and that approach has been scientifically proven to be utterly counter-productive. Plenty of TED Talks if you care to question it. If you praise but exclude comparison, especially at such a high National level, you give people nothing to work towards. Unfettered worship of mediocrity is what leads to misplaced arrogance, and doesn’t nurture stimulated development.
What I’m saying is: be careful when you publicly praise something as being quite outstandingly excellent. It might not actually be.
Tom Peters built a 40+ year career “In Search of Excellence” because it is so rare, and I’ve written about this before: how my wife and I attended a performance of a big piece by a large nationally-recognized professional orchestra in the USA which was simply nice, and three weeks later we experienced the same piece performed by a County (not even National) youth orchestra in the UK, which blew us out of the water.
Mediocrity (fueled by “cheap and fast”) is rampant.
Not every performance deserves a standing ovation (even my own, but thank you!)
We can do better with both our expectations and our praise – the tap is adjustable and doesn’t need to be fully on or fully off all the time.
One way to temper our enthusiasm for less-than-par musical quality is to approach concerts with intent.
Such as the approach I share in my training “How to Make the Most of Classical Music Concerts.”
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Then the price goes up for the public launch.
Update (November 6, 2017):
A new response to my comment just appeared and made me laugh. I thought it might be relevant to this discussion:
Ignore the American comments. You wonder why the US is such a lightweight in classical music and never had a great world-class composer compared to Britain. Classical music and the US don’t mix so you won’t get high standards. For an American orchestra, this is considered very good.
Lower your expectations, please. The USA is not a high achiever in classical music so you can’t expect much.
I fear the author of those comments may be right, but a few years ago I made it a crusade of mine to change that snobbish perspective of classical music in the USA. How am I doing?